Photo: Quantrell Colbert
If there’s one thing Chandra R. Thomas knows for sure, it’s that you can support black-owned businesses and obtain quality products and services.
Considering the success of enterprises such as Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions or Don Peebles’ Peebles Corp., having to defend the quality of black companies might seem passé. But the idea that “black-owned” equals subpar is a notion that persists among many.
“I want to dispel the myth that by supporting black-owned businesses you’re settling for less quality,” says Thomas, a 37-year-old freelance journalist. Thomas notes that African Americans tend to have higher expectations of black-owned businesses than they do nonblack establishments. They are also less forgiving.
“Someone can go to a place and have a bad experience and make a sweeping statement like, ‘That’s why I don’t support black businesses.’ I think that’s the wrong attitude.” Instead, she suggests responding to poor service by cordially asking to speak with the management and making a decision based on the outcome.
“It wouldn’t be so disturbing if we were conservative, modest consumers. But looking at the statistics, we are the largest consumers, so not spending money with African American vendors and business owners is disturbing,” Thomas says. According to a report released by the Selig Center for Economic Growth, black buying power is on track to reach $1.2 trillion in 2015. The desire to combat such thinking was one reason Thomas and two of her friends established a discussion group primarily for African American professionals, called TalkBLACK. The organization has made supporting black-owned business an integral part of its mission.
TalkBLACK hosts two-hour meetings on the first Saturday of each month at black-owned venues, and encourages attendees to purchase at least one item from the menu. Thomas got the idea to form the nonprofit group while engrossed in a lively discussion with her two close friends. Although they already actively participated in a few organizations, all three longed for a social setting for intellectuals outside of Atlanta’s club scene. The trio knew of others who shared their appetite for passionate discourse about the African American community and soon put their plan into action.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” says Godfrey Fuji Noe, a 38-year-old social and behavioral scientist who, along with Thomas and journalist Bryan Toussaint, co-founded TalkBLACK in December 2003. “I always knew it had—and still has—tons of potential.” The three held informal meetings at which they discussed the organization’s potential format, says Noe. Next, they drove around looking for black-owned venues at which they could host gatherings and further explore the direction the organization should take. “The future is pregnant with possibility,” says Noe. “I see the potential for a radio or TV talk show and perhaps other projects.”